Two young men set off this May on an unthinkable task: pick up, haul out, and dispose of every single piece of trash they saw on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. It’s a Herculean job when you consider that people leave everything from used toilet paper and diapers to spent batteries and box springs on trails across the country, and that much of the PCT wends through wilderness and large stretches are inaccessible to roads and motorized vehicles.
The final weight of junk the two men pulled off the trail: 720 pounds. Among the highlights: a mattress, a 35-pound metal-and-broken-glass television stand, children's toys, and 26 Mylar balloons.
“It still blows me away—the non-hiking-related items we find along these scenic trails,” said Seth Orme, one of the trail cleaners, shortly after finishing the trail with his friend, Paul Twedt, in late September.
Watch: Meet Two Thru Hikers Who Pack Out Trash from Our Most Famous Trails
This isn’t the first time Orme (trail name: Cap), a 26-year-old YMCA healthy living coach in Asheville, North Carolina, and Twedt (trail name: Spice), a 30-year-old field marketer for Clif Bar in Lakeville, Minnesota, have embarked on such an altruistic journey. Last year they completed a similar feat of trash removal on the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail and ended up with almost 1,100 pounds of detritus. (There are far more thru-hikers on the AT, and the trail’s relative proximity to feeder trails allows more day hikers access.) They call their effort the Packing It Out initiative, and they’ve garnered sponsors, including Altra, Sierra Designs, Clif Bar, and Granite Gear.
Any useful gear the two men found on the PCT they donated at gear boxes along the trail—except a functional Steripen, which Orme kept for his own use.
Orme and Twedt started at the trail’s southern terminus, in the Mojave Desert on the U.S.-Mexico border, in May and worked their way north. On the first day, hiking in triple-digit heat, with few fresh water sources around, they accumulated 40 pounds of trash and discarded gear. “You gotta face it, you’ll be thirsty out there,” Orme said.
The spot on the trail with the most garbage? Mile 444, outside of Los Angeles. They pair said they collected 126 pounds in the area in just two hours—the TV stand and a plastic tricycle, among other junk. At other times, the men faced long stretches between food caches, which they mailed to themselves at post offices along the way. Orme recounted one particularly rough leg, where he and his partner hiked 110 miles over 70 hours in Washington carrying and depositing who-knows-how-much trash along the way.
At times, the two carried upwards of 30 pounds of garbage each, in addition to their own food and gear. They avoided any food item with fewer than 130 calories per ounce, and subsisted mainly on nut butters, energy bars, and nutritional powders like Standard Process.
They’ve already inspired others to chip in. Orme said hundreds of fellow thru-hikers helped along the way, and Sierra Designs, one of their sponsors, organized a cleanup this summer on local trails in Nederland, Colorado, where participants hauled out 680 pounds of trash.
Next up for the duo: organized national-park cleanups.